Halt the Assault on the Ekuri Community and other Forests

Proposed Super Highway Map_Southern section-compressedSome of the best preserved rain forests in Nigeria are the Cross River National Park and the Ekuri Community Forest all in Cross River State, Nigeria. These forests are under serious threat of being destroyed to make way for a Super Highway that can easily be re-routed to preserve our communities as well as enormous biodiversity including rare and endangered species.

The 260km Super Highway is planned to lead from a proposed deep sea port at Esighi in Bakassi Local Government Area run through the Cross River National Park and up to Katsina Ala in Benue State, Nigeria, at a cost of N700 billion or about $3.5bn.

Firmly rejecting the routing of the Super Highway through their forest, the Ekuri Chiefs added that “Our forest is our wealth and the beacon of our hopes and aspirations”

With a dramatic and outrageous appropriation of a massive 20.4-kilometre-wide track over 260km length, the Super Highway is a project of monstrous and needless proportions. A Public Notice of Revocation signed by the Commissioner for Lands and Urban Development and published in a local newspaper, Weekend Chronicle, on 22nd January 2016 decreed, among other things, that:

“all rights of occupancy existing or deemed to exist on all that piece of land or parcel of land lying and situate along the Super Highway from Esighi, Bakassi Local Government Government Area to Bekwarra Local Government Area of Cross River State covering a distance of 260km approximately and having an offset of 200m on either side of the centre line of the road and further 10km after the span of the Super Highway, excluding Government Reserves and public institutions are hereby revoked for overriding public purpose absolutely.” This is clearly unacceptable under any kind of highway design.

In a petition to the Governor of Cross River State, dated 13th February 2016, the Chiefs and people of Okokori Village of Obubra Local Government Area saw the revocation of the right to their lands including settlements, farmlands and community forest as a calculated attempt to extinguish them as a people. They concluded that “Since the revocation of all our lands for a Super highway have damning consequences on us and our environment, we are compelled not to welcome this project as the ulterior motive of your government is to grab our lands and make us worthless, ignoring the fact we voted overwhelmingly for you to better our lot but not to punish us unjustifiably.”

Proposed Super Highway Map_Northern Section (2) compressed

In an earlier petition dated 7th February and addressed to the Governor, the Ekuri Traditional Rulers Council stated, among other things, that “The right of way for the Super Highway measuring 400 metres wide (200m on each side of the road from the centre line), being the width of four standard football fields, is too large and wil destroy our forest and farms that we have laboured to conserve and cultivate crops…The further 10km on either side of the Super Highway from the 200 metres ends totalling 20km width is appalling, meaning that the whole of our Ekuri community forest totalling 33,600 hectares, all our farms and community settlements would have been revoked leaving us landless.”

Firmly rejecting the routing of the Super Highway through their forest, the Ekuri Chiefs added that “Our forest is our wealth and the beacon of our hopes and aspirations”

Many things are wrong with this planned routing of the Super Highway. First, if allowed to proceed along the path that has been planned, it would destroy the aforementioned forests and equally impact other forests and communities. See the attached maps of the northern and southern ends of the proposed Super Highway.

Ekuri“We find it unacceptable that a project of this magnitude is pursued without regard to the law and in defiance of the rights of communities,” says Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation. He states further “Although the President conducted a ceremonial ground breaking exercise on 30th October 2015, that cannot be construed to mean an approval for the project to proceed without meeting the requirements of the law, particularly that of Environmental Impact Assessment. Moreover, as required by law, an EIA cannot be claimed to have been conducted if there are no consultations with citizens that would be impacted by the project.”

Observers think the project may be a cover for land grabbing, illegal logging and poaching and the destruction of habitats in the forests and reserves that are protected by law and preserved by custom. They question why a project of this nature would reportedly enjoy contributions from Nigerian banks without requisite preliminary surveys, plans and approvals.

The affected communities inform that “besides the fact that the proposed route was going to cause untold damage to the globally important park, it also demonstrated that the route had been selected without looking at a contour map, let alone having an engineering survey.”

Chief Edwin Ogar of Ekuri community stated that: “the destruction of Ekuri and other community forests because of the revocation for a super highway, will aggravate climate change crisis with dire consequences on humanity in general particularly among the poor”.

HOMEF calls on the Government to

  1. Comply with the laws of the land including by conducting Environmental Impact Assessment, other relevant assessments and consultations as enshrined in ILO Article 169
  2. Halt the rampaging bulldozers that are already destroying farms at Etara/Eyeyen and are continuing towards Ekuri and Okuni forests/communities.
  3. Reroute the Super Highway along a less damaging path and away from Community forests and the National park
  4. Reward and support communities that protect our forests rather than penalize and dispossessing, displacing and impoverishing them.

HOMEF also calls on all peace loving Nigerians and citizens of the world to join the call to rethink this project and work to preserve the tranquility that has reigned in this forest before the threat of the bulldozers.

(Press Statement by HOMEF in support of the threatened communities. 01.03.2016)

Labour, Leaves and Leaving

PanelMeetings with labour unionists are opportunities that open new interrogations of complex issues. The determination of African union leaders to create linkages with the wider civil society offers hope for the birth of strong continent-wide movements for positive changes. This was underscored when union leaders gathered in Lome, Togo, 22-26 February to dissect Issues and perspectives on Industrial Development and Employment in Africa: Challenges and opportunities for Trade Unions in the face of Climate Change as the thematic focus of the 6th New Year School of ITUC-Africa. Labour union leaders from across the continent huddled for the week discussing structural economic issues and considering the outcome of climate negotiations and the implications for the world of work.

Over the first two days specific topics x-rayed in plenaries included: The Current State of African Economies: Typologies, Actors, Governance-Institutions and Economic Sectoral linkages; Africa’s Economic Structural Transformation: Policies and Perspectives; Climate Change and Green Jobs in Africa; Economic Sectors Hardest Hit by Climate Change, Country Policy Responses and Trade Union Actions.

After the plenaries, comrades spent 3 days in two workshops of which one was on Structural Industrial Transformation and Agricultural development: Policies and Perspectives and the other on Climate Change and Green Jobs – policies and perspectives.

As I participated I saw that a deep commitment of labour activists to engage on climate change issues holds the key to needed mass mobilisations for system change that would build from the factory floor to climate negotiation halls. While participating in the climate change track, our resilience levels were sorely tested by a fluctuating power situation and by the fact that the design of the building housing the workshop was not climate sensitive.

We came away with a reaffirmation of the fact that climate change is the defining challenge of our time and all agreed to develop and work on national union climate change policies and strategies.

LEAVES

Before leaving Lome, I had the pleasure of having lunch with Kwami Kpondzo of Friends of the Earth Togo and Noble Wadzah of Oilwatch Ghana. Noble had came over from Accra to participate in a workshop of communities impacted by extractive sector activities.

For lunch we had a dish of pounded yam served with pepper soup at Tanty D located at Be-Klikame part of Lome. It is restaurant with a large outdoor eating area under a canopy of luxuriously luxuriant leaves. As we enjoyed our meal a train of itinerant hawkers came around with wares including trousers, shirts, laptop bags and smart phones. And, of course, there was a musician moaning and plucking away on his box guitar. I thought this was surely close to paradise! Then I noticed that above the canopy of leaves were high tension electricity cables. Apart from the harmful radiations from the cables, if they should snap it would mean a one-way ticket to the world beyond for customers engrossed in the great foods served here. We hastily finished our meal and escaped. This is something the Togolese authorities should review.

LEAVING

From Lome, my sights were set on Bamako, Mali. Going to Bamako has turned out to be an experience for me these days. The last time I went, we had to wait for several long minutes for a tyre change on the aircraft that took us from Lome. We landed safely, as you can imagine. This time, as we approached the check in counter, those of us heading to Bamako were asked to step aside and wait. Questions to the officer as to how long we were to wait before check in brought answers in whispers: “Maybe it is not the will of God for you to fly to Bamako today.” That was suspicious to me because although airlines fly above the clouds they do not have a monopoly of access to God. Certainly this was a poor excuse for sloppy business.

As it turned out, the airline had a backlog of passengers for the route and could not take us all. And so, another night in Lome. Soon I will head back to the airport. And probably there will be an update, if you would like to know!

They Don’t Care if We Exist – Crude oil Spill Impacts at Forcados

14th February was celebrated as Lover’s day across the world, but in parts of the creeks of the Niger Delta it turned out to be a tragic day. While lovers dressed with a touch of red, Forcados communities were braced for the unknown with the threat of having their water ways coated with crude oil rose by the hour. On that day, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC or Shell) announced that there was an oil spill from their 1.2 metres (48 inches) export line and that they were investigating the cause. The point of leak lies under 4.5 metres of water.

To be sure that the right thing was done, that the environment was protected and that communities were not left in limbo, the Minister of Environment, Amina Mohammed and the Minister of State for Environment, IBRAHIM Usman JIBRIL, visited the Forcados Terminal on 19th February to see things for themselves. They forsook the luxury of getting there on a chopper and took to the boats to get there through the choppy, and at times, treacherous waves. Their move sent a strong signal that the business of ecological defense in these parts was taking a necessary curve.

We should also say here that since taking office, these ministers have toured the environmental crisis hot-spots in Nigeria – including those polluted by oil and industrial activities, those impacted by desertification and loss of wetlands and those facing the menace of gully erosion. They have also been in constant consultations to ensure that the implementation of the UNEP report on Ogoni environment is not only implemented but that other parts of the Niger Delta would not be left on the lurch.

WP_20160219_033The trip to Forcados was all business. Forcados in Burutu Local Government Area of Delta State, Nigeria hosts the second oil export terminal in Nigeria besides the one at Bonny in Rivers State. There was no media announcement and no paparazzi. Government officials on the visit were John Nani – the Commissioner for Environment, Delta State and Dan Yingi – Chairman of the Environment Committee of the Delta State House of Assembly The other officials were Mrs Akutu -the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry  and  Idris Musa of the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA). And then there were three of us from the environmental justice constituency: Emem Okon, Monday Itoghor and yours truly.

Arrival at Forcados Terminal was an hour’s bounce on the waves in a convoy of military boats. On the way we passed solitary boats with stoic fisher women and men hoping for a catch, and obviously at home with the boisterous waves around them.

On arrival at the Terminal, the visiting team was given a presentation on the incident by Shell officials. Before zeroing in on the incident, they went on a history tour of developments on the Terminal as well as on past incidents.

Spills remembered

The terminal commenced operations 1971, that is 45 years ago and had a major upgrade in 1998.

Shell noted that the incident of 14th February 2016 was almost on the 10th anniversary of an 18th February 2006 militant attack on the pipeline. They also mentioned an attack on their 36 inches produced water pipelines in 2006. Produced water is dumped into the creeks and rivers of the Niger Delta after treatment by the production companies.

The company provides constant electricity from gas turbines to the two major communities in Forcados, Ogulagha and Odimodi. Shell has 36 power generating turbines here and only needs 2 to power their operations at the Terminal. Since the shutdown power is supplied from diesel run electricity generators. This may soon be rationed as supply runs low.

Shell also informed that on 4th March 2014 there was a third party interference on their export line at a depth of 8 metres and that this was a through a sophisticated theft point that only professionals could have done.

The current spill happened 5km off the coast and led to a shut in of 300,000 barrels a day of crude oil from government owned Shell, Nigerian Petroleum Development Company (NPDC) and a Nigerian company, Seplat Petroleum Development Company.

Chronology of a Spill and Response

The loading of a vessel, MT Yamuna Spirit, commenced from 10:00 am on 12th February 2016. Loading was suspended at 0:20 am on 14th February when the spill was noticed. Seplat and NPDC were informed to stop pumping crude oil to the Terminal at 5:41 pm on 14th February.

Shell deployed booms at 9:35 am on 15th February to curtail the spread of the crude and a specialised surveillance aircraft arrived from Ghana at 10:30 am on 17th February to join the effort. By the time of the visit, they had deployed 27 skimmers and plastic tanks for collection of recovered crude. They also stated that community people were recruited to join the clean up effort.

There were booms and skimmers deployed by Shell here, but these were clearly rudimentary and ineffective. The crude oil simply coursed beyond the feeble booms while the skimmers whirled and skimmed what they could.

When the Minister asked what actions had been taken to protect and assist the impacted communities, Shell officials informed that so far they had recovered 25 barrels of crude and had mobilised relief materials such as rice, beans, vegetable oil and water to the major communities.

Tellingly, Shell would not disclose how many barrels of crude oil has been dumped into the sea, creeks and the lands from this incident.

Cause of Incident

WP_20160219_023Although investigations by the Joint Inspection Team –made up of company and government officials, as well as community representatives- have not been concluded, Shell insisted that the spill was caused by a third party interference. How are they so sure of this? They displayed thick concrete pieces collected from the sea bed at the point of leakage. The pipe is protected by being encased in concrete reinforced with wire mesh. The second point that they claimed provided irrefutable proof was that some communities people informed them that they heard a big bang at a time that coincided with when the spill occurred.

On being questioned by the Minister of Environment, they agreed that they would have to wait for the conclusion of the investigations and further expert examination, before drawing any conclusions about the cause of the spill.

My note here was that even if the exact time of the rupture of the pipe was known, hearing a loud notice from the community could not rigidly prove that a third party interference had occurred on the pipeline at a point 5 km out at sea. That sounds like one “hearsay” taken too far!

The Minister of Environment appreciated the fact that Shell notified her ministry of the spill on 15th February. She told them that President Buhari is determined to ensure a clean up of Ogoniland as well as the entire Niger Delta. She noted that whether the present incident was caused by equipment failure or by third party action, the government was concerned that the communities, the environment and the economy should not suffer.

They Don’t Care if We Exist

After the Official presentation it was time to visit some of the impacted communities. We headed towards the open sea, but after about 15 minutes in choppy waves and heavy salt water sprays, it was obvious that it was not the right time to proceed in that direction using the boats we had. So back to the Terminal we returned. From here we went to Oseigbene  village (also called Okutu) right at the edge of the Terminal to see things for ourselves.

Shell had tried to say that the spill was being contained and kept from hitting the shoreline, but the visit to this village showed very extensive crude oil pollution of the community, especially their creek, the major source of potable water. There were booms and skimmers deployed by Shell here, but these were clearly rudimentary and ineffective. The crude oil simply coursed beyond the feeble booms while the skimmers whirled and skimmed what they could.

The mangrove forests were heavily impacted. Dead crabs and fish littered the shoreline at the village. It was a river of oil as far as we could see. The effort to put up a clean-up show for the visiting Minister did not quite pan out as they may have expected.

Community women spoke up. The told the Minister that Shell does not appear to care whether they existed or not. That no one cared if they were humans. They had no road, no electricity and no water. They had no jobs and were not engaged in the clean up processes. They had also not received any relief materials. Their children were sick as a result of the spill and some were in hospitals receiving treatment. After the visit the oil company officials said they were not aware of any illnesses arising from the spill.

The Minister assured the community that her visit was to ensure that their situation was handled properly and that their environment would be cleaned up. She also noted that the women and children bore special impacts from incidents like the present one and that something would be done to assist them.

A short helicopter overflight of the spill point showed efforts being made to curtail the spread of the spill. Again the booms deployed out there did not appear to far any better than the ones seen at Oseigbene.

This is the story of oil and the Niger Delta.

Arrival of The Last Militant

2 booksThe word militant elicits a certain meaning in Nigeria and like the word insurgents people often link it with violence. Another word that has taken on peculiar meaning in Nigeria is restiveness – a descriptive word assigned to agitated Niger Delta youths totally radicalised by fossil fuels extraction pollutions and unwilling to stay civil in the face of oppressive injustice.

Patrick Naagbanton, a man of many parts – journalist, environmental/human rights activist, poet, etc. – has just added two important books to the Nigerian literary scene. One is a collection of poems titled Fury of the Fisher Woman and the other is The Last Militant – A biography of Comrade Cheta Ibama Ibegwura – and the struggles for workers’ rights in Nigeria, justice and self-determination in the Niger Delta region..

Furious Fisher Woman

The poetry book is loaded with anger, death and defiance. Poignantly, except for when the writer mentions “other unsung comrades (dead or alive) whose stories are not yet told,” both books are dedicated to persons who have departed from the physical plane. They nudge you to closely study Nigeria’s tragic post colonial history – an history that current political leaders would rather sweep under the carpet.

Writing for the victims of the Umuechem massacre of 1st November 1990, the poem titled The Script opens with these lines:

Distress marches

Clad in black on the precarious pipelines

Demanding to drink from it along the

Bush paths of Umuechem

On the sad day on which Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni 8 were murdered, Patrick wrote under the title Hangmen:

Their banter of blood shall soon end 

And I shall sing our funeral songs

They shall weep as we are weeping

With the troubled tribe

Militant to the core

As Patrick states, “the story of Cheta Ibama Ibegwura, popularly called ‘Wati’ and later ‘Comrade Che’ is the story of Nigeria.”  And the book, “The Last Militant, though a biographical work, also takes us through a whole range of issues such as the histories of great organizations and movements– their successes and failures in Nigeria.”

One is tempted to ask: why Patrick chose to label Comrade Che a militant? Synonyms for militant include: activist, confrontational, aggressive, radical, revolutionary, belligerent, combative, pugnacious. Within the array of words, the closest in meaning to the legend we all know as Comrade Che would be radical and revolutionary. He is a gentle, uncompromising militant. At 83 years, Apostolic Comrade Che remains resolute in the struggle for human and environmental justice as well as for community rights.

Through the book we learn of his militancy in political actions, pro-democracy activism and in inspiring trade union consciousness. A freelance revolutionary, as Patrick terms him, he continues unwaveringly in the pursuit of militant causes.

Comrade Che before Comrade Che

Here is an extract from the foreword I wrote for the book: This is a story of courage, love, commitment and passion. It is a story that shows the triumph of the human spirit even in the most hazardous situations. It is a story of a survivor.  He indeed survived many detentions, false imprisonments and assassination attempts. He admired his late friend, Ken Saro-Wiwa, and the Ogoni people for ‘being true to the struggle in the naked face of mass arrests, killings, government and crude oil induced bribes.’ Unfortunately, he could not say the same for the organising ability and fidelity to causes by his own immediate people.

Apostolic Comrade Che, as I call him, is a very inspiring man. His simplicity is unpretentious. He is a man of ideas and is always willing to share such ideas. This book reveals much that is not readily known of this great man. I have known Comrade Che and benefitted from his friendship and fatherly counsel, from the mid 1990s. However, reading this book brings me face to face with him as though I only just knew him for the first time. In fact, until I read this book I always thought that Cheta Ibama Ibegwura was named Comrade Che after the famous Argentine internationalist. Behold, he was already Comrade Che before he ever heard of the other Comrade Che.

Not a Book Review

This is not a book review. It is a tribute to my mentor and teacher, Comrade Che. It is also a thank you note to Patrick for penning these powerful books. The books published by Creektown Books (Lagos) will be presented at a public event in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, on 5th March 2016. Get the books and review them yourselves!

 

Dialogue with Bulldozers at Ekuri Community Forest

EkuriBulldozers, Superhighway and Ekuri Community Forest

Bulldozers and forests are not friends. Neither are highways or super highways, as the people of Ekuri Community are learning. The Ekuri Community Forest in Cross River State, Nigeria, is an acclaimed example of how communities can sustainably manage their forest. Now, this forest is under threat from the State Government that has embarked on the construction of a 260 Km, 6 lanes dual carriage super highway through their forest, using the highly controversial Land Use Act of 1979 as a cover for dispossessing the people of their land, forest and patrimony.

When the ground breaking ceremony for this project was conducted by President Muhammadu Buhari on 30th October 2015, the Ekuri Community thought that having an all-weather road pass by their community would bring to an end their perpetual struggle to secure access to the outside world through the earth road they had built by community effort. This thinking was shattered by a Public Notice of Revocation signed by the Commissioner for Lands and Urban Development and published in a local newspaper on 22nd January 2016 decreeing, among other things, that:

“all rights of occupancy existing or deemed to exist on all that piece of land or parcel of land lying and situate along the Super Highway from Esighi, Bakassi Local Government Government Area to Bekwarra Local Government Area of Cross River State covering a distance of 260km approximately and having an offset of 200m on either side of the centre line of the road and further 10km after the span of the Super Highway, excluding Government Reserves and public institutions are hereby revoked for overriding public purpose absolutely”.

Land Grabbing

The community studied the “Notice of Revocation” and the line profile and found that some of the coordinates show that their forest, community lands and settlements would be taken up by the Super Highway and the extraordinary right of way of 10 Km claimed by the government – beyond the 200 metres right of way allowed from the centre line on each side of the road. Little wonder the community characterises this usurpation as a case of crass land land grabbing. This sort of grabbing tends to suggest that this part of Nigeria is Tarzan country or simply a no-man’s land.

If the world keeps quiet and allows the bulldozers to have their way, they would not only bulldoze the future of the Ekuri people, the act would entrench impunity, satisfy the lust for capital, promote deforestation in one of the last remaining pristine forest in Africa and blunt our collective hope for tackling global warming.

Before this, some critics of the Super Highway project such as the Rainforest Resource Development Centre (RRDC) had stated that “the BLUE PRINTS of such a huge 260km 6 lanes Super Highway project running across the entire Cross River State of Nigeria was not made public before the commencement of construction at the ground breaking event.  Significantly also, the blue print of the said project has not been made public till this moment.  This is a contravention of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 of the National Assembly as well as other related legislations…”

Other significant issues raised include the fact that no credible Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) have been conducted before the taking off of the project. The project threatens the Cross River National Park as the highway traverses the buffer zone of the forest.

In its press briefing of 6th November 2015, the RRDC expressed the fear that contrary to the requirement of the Land Use Act, no schedules of compensation (including the names of beneficiaries) had been made public.  “The risk is that this project could end up escalating rural poverty if the issues of compensations are neglected.  This is so because the affected indigenous people and communities of Cross River State of Nigeria who own these resources could end up losing their sources of livelihoods, income and wellbeing, as well as their natural heritage and territories.”

Heritage Destruction

What RDDC feared is unfolding before the eyes of the Ekuri people and the world must not keep a blind eye to this.

The Ekuri protest Letter against the Super highway, dated 6th February 2016, reminded the Cross River State government that they had “for centuries conserved and managed our Ekuri community forest for its rich biodiversity and ecosystems services not only for our sustainable development but for the entire world. Since 1992, we pioneered formal community forestry in Nigeria and established the Ekuri Initiative (an NGO registered with the Federal Government) with a mandate in forest conservation, sustainable forest management, community development and poverty reduction. Since its inception, we have recorded inspiring successes. We have developed and implemented a land use plan which we jealously adhere to, a flagship community forestry project in Nigeria (a credit to Cross River State), the largest and best community managed forest in West Africa totaling 33,600ha. We received the UNEP Equator Award in 2004 for our outstanding passion, commitments and efforts to reducing poverty through the conservation and sustainable use of our biodiversity. We have been visited by several communities from Nigeria, Cameroon, Kenya, Uganda and Mozambique and a host of researchers to learn from our experiences. Our activities have been replicated by international development agencies and local NGOs and has brought fame to Cross River State and Nigeria as a whole. The planned destruction of our community forests which we have labored so hard to protect and conserve is not a welcome development. The resolve of our forebears to conserve our forest must be continued in perpetuity being a bequest and legacy to all the Ekuri people living and yet unborn.”

Dialogue with Bulldozers

With the level of dispossession staring them in the face, the Ekuri Community decided to reject the passage of the Super Highway through their forest and demand a realignment of the road. According to community sources, their petition received a quick but shocking response:

“At the receipt of the Protest Letter, the Governor has quickly sent a bulldozer this morning to Ekuri to begin the destruction of the Ekuri community forest in the name of the Super Highway. This is to show power and strength against poor communities and in defiance of the dictates of the rule of law.”

If the world keeps quiet and allows the bulldozers to have their way, they would not only bulldoze the future of the Ekuri people, the act would entrench impunity, satisfy the lust for capital, promote deforestation in one of the last remaining pristine forest in Africa and blunt our collective hope for tackling global warming. This is a challenge, not just for Ekuri Community but for the entire global community.

 

Oil, POWER and ENVIRONMENT in the 2016 National Budget

NASS Budget-CSOsLooking at aspects of the 2016 National Budget[1]

We applaud the leadership of the Nigerian National Assembly (NASS) for convoking a consultation with civil society over the 2016 National budget. This level of engagement points to an era of openness and inclusiveness that will ensure that the voices of the people are heard.

This contribution is restricted to a few aspects of the capital expenditure earmarked for the Petroleum Resources, Power Sector and for the Ministry of Environment. These sectors undergird other areas of our national endeavour and deserve close scrutiny.

We do not wish to get entangled with recurrent expenditure issues as these comprise mostly personnel costs, some of whom may be ghosts!

PETROLEUM RESOURCES

It is most surprising to see a whopping N200,000,000 proposed for the “Passage of Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB).” We would like to see the detailed breakdown of this sum in order for us to be able to make sense of the proposal.

With the budget still largely predicated on crude oil revenues, an unpredictable and increasingly negative resource, the budgetary provisions here require plenty of questioning. However, it is most surprising to see a whopping N200,000,000 proposed for the “Passage of Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB).” We would like to see the detailed breakdown of this sum in order for us to be able to make sense of the proposal. Which PIB is this provision referring to? The same goes for the proposal to spend N200,000,000 for the “Review of Gas Master Plan.”

POWER

We note that the power distribution aspects of the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHNC) had been privatised and handed over to companies that have gone ahead to increase electricity tariff before providing commensurate services. The question needs to be asked why there should be a budgetary provision of N397m for purchase of 75 pieces of 500 KVA transformers for Abuja and four States?[2] There are three other lines for procurement and installation of transformers for other locations at N262,414,132, N20,683,949 and N250,401,152. If privatisation means that the distribution sub-sector of the defunct PHCN was taken over by private investors, why is the government still buying and installing transformers?

Another concern is about the N1 billion budgeted for generation of 10MW of electricity at the Katsina Wind Farm. This Wind Farm is on record as having been fully paid for in the past.[3] If this budgetary allocation, broken into two subheads are NEW, as stated, is there a confirmation that the  OLD installation is already working?

THE ENVIRONMENT

A well equipped NOSDRA would be better positioned to independently detect and respond to oil spills rather than depending on the polluting oil companies.

The Federal Ministry of Environment is not one of the best resourced ministries. It, however, is one of the most vital ministries for the fact that most Nigerians depend essentially on the natural environment.

Considering the level of pollution in the oil fields and the handicap of National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) in terms of facilities one would have expected this agency to be well resourced. A well equipped NOSDRA would be better positioned to independently detect and respond to oil spills rather than depending on the polluting oil companies.

There is nothing in the budget submission for vital equipment such as boats or helicopters that could facilitate monitoring in the creeks as well as offshore. We recommend that the NASS trims down the huge departmental subheads and properly equip this agency and others that are sorely needed to curtail reckless pollution and degradation of our environment.

It would be helpful to better fund the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) as well as the National Parks and the restoration of our wetlands, including the highly degraded Nguru Wetland.

NASS Cuts

Considering that we are on a limited time budget at this consultation, permit me to end this short submission by requesting that the NASS publishes details of its expenditure and also to review the controversial Constituency Projects concept as these projects can easily be taken care of by the various ministries and agencies.

—————————————————–

[1] Presentation by Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) at National Assembly Interactive Session with Civil Society Organizations on the 2016 Budget, Convened by the Senate President, Nigeria, on 10th February 2016

[2] Federal Government of Nigeria (National Budget Office). Appropriation Bill. 2016. http://www.budgetoffice.gov.ng/pdfs/2016pro/WORKS%20POWER%20AND%20HOUSING.pdf

[3] Emeka Anuforo. February 8, 2016. Queries over budgets for transformers, Katsina wind farm. The Guardian, Lagos. Accessed at http://www.ngrguardiannews.com/2016/02/queries-over-budgets-for-transformers-katsina-wind-farm/

 

A Living Memorial for Deadened Memories

BUSWALLPAPERThe Bus, a sculptural memorial in honour of Ken Saro-Wiwa, Saturday Dobee, Nordu Eawo, Daniel Gbooko, Paul Levera, Felix Nuate, Baribor Bera, Barinem Kiobel, and John Kpuine was shipped to Nigeria from the United Kingdom by Platform. On arrival in Nigeria it was seized by the Nigeria Customs since 8th September 2015 on the reported grounds that it had “political value.” The original idea was for the Bus to be used during the 20th anniversary activities to mark the dastardly execution of the Ogoni 9 on 10th November 2015. The kidnap of the Bus by the Nigeria Customs, as Celestine Akpobari, head of Ogoni Solidarity Forum (OSF) labels it, made it impossible for the cultural memorial to be used.

One interesting fact that emerged from the hearing of 4th February was that the Customs officials stated that the the “inscription on memorial bus is a threat to national peace.”

Due to the continued detention of the sculpture by the Nigeria Customs, the OSF leader petitioned the House of Representatives of Nigeria seeking their intervention for the release of the sculpture. We note that the sculpture was created by Nigerian-born artist Sokari Douglas Camp.

The House of Representatives has so far held two hearings on the matter on 28th January and 4th February 2016. At the first hearing the Representatives were unhappy that the Comptroller of Customs did not appear before them. Again, at the second hearing the Customs boss was conspicuously missing, prompting the Representatives warning that they should not be provoked to issue an arrest warrant against the big man. The next hearing is scheduled for 17 February 2016.

One interesting fact that emerged from the hearing of 4th February was that the Customs officers stated that the the ‘inscription on memorial bus is a threat to national peace.”

What could possibly be the threatening inscription on the sculpture? The Bus has the name of Ken Saro-Wiwa on a white steel banner on one side, and the names of the other 8 Ogoni leaders on sculptural crude oil barrels. It also has the words of Ken Saro-Wiwa: “I accuse the oil companies of practising Genocide against the Ogoni.” Would these threaten national peace?

It should be noted that this sculpture has been on display in the UK for 9 years and was shipped to Nigeria by Platform on the request of network partners in Nigeria: Movement For The Survival Of Ogoni People (MOSOP), Ogoni Solidarity Forum (OSF), Social Action, Health Of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) and Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN).

In his official submission to the House of Representatives, Akpobari said, “We are concerned that after killing Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni 8, and dumping their bodies in an unmarked grave, the Nigerian government is bent on erasing every memory of Saro-Wiwa and his struggles for justice, including making sure that a “Living Memorial” – the Bus made in his memory and in solidarity with his people – is never delivered to them.”

The Nigeria Customs appears to have chosen to fight a battle to erase the memories of these heroes of environmental and cultural struggles. Seizing a sculpture gives the impression that the State is attempting to kill the message after annihilating the messengers. With the experience of history, we can say that this is a futile endeavor and the Customs should release and deliver the Bus to the people of Ogoni as emblematic representatives of peoples struggling for ecological sanity, social inclusion and dignity.

If there are persons that wonder who Ken Saro-Wiwa and these leaders were, the words of Sanya Osha in a paper published in Socialism and Democracy gives a crisp picture:

“When Ken Saro-Wiwa and his nine Ogoni compatriots were hanged in November 1995, it both polarized and unified the fragile as well as volatile geographical entity known as Nigeria. However, this time, it wasn’t the ethnic and religious fissures that were most noticeable. Instead it was the naked fist of raw power versus the vociferous protestations of a disenfranchised minority writhing beneath the weight of a seemingly implacable military dictatorship.

“Ken Saro-Wiwa became the voice, face and symbol of this aggrieved minority straining for denied civic and democratic rights. He became a hero in patently unheroic times and this is what makes his life and the loss of it so potently poignant.”

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It is for this and other reasons that 10th November has galvanized a global environmental justice movement and has become a global day of remembrance of victims of extractivism. And as Platform warns, They can hold the Bus but they can’t stop the movement.

There is no wisdom in keeping this sculptural Bus in captivity.

 

—photos by Platform—